Sunday, 8 November 2015

**Top tips for travelling Japan**

Language

It is important to learn at least a few key words or phrases before going to Japan. We learned the following and although very basic, it just made transactions with locals a little easier/friendlier. I don't know if our accents/pronunciation were that good but we tried and the locals seemed to appreciate it.

Ohayou gozaimasu - Good Morning
Konnichiwa - Hello
Konbanwa - Good Evening
Sumimasen - Excuse me / Sorry (most common way of saying sorry)
Gomennasai - Very sorry (Almost like begging forgiveness, not for use in everyday situations)
Arigatou gozaimasu - Thank you
Onegai shimasu - Please
Gochisosama - I am pleased with the meal (Tomo taught us this one)
Ego ga hanasemas ka - Do you speak English?

('u' at the end of the words above is silent)

These are also potentially useful words:
Oishii - Delicious (childlike way of saying it)
Kanpai - Cheers
Kawaii - Cute
Kowai - Scary     (notice how similar to Kawaii - careful pronunciation needed)
Tori/Chikin - Chicken
Wagyuu - Beef
Ton - Pork
Gohan - Rice
Mizu - Water
Umeshu / Kajitsushu - Plum Wine/Fruit Liquor

We never really had to go higher than 5 as all prices are printed/on screens:
Ichi - 1
Ni - 2
San - 3
Yon - 4
Go - 5

We also had a Japanese phrasebook with us and we had the Jsho app on our phones so we were able to look up words/phrases if we needed (Jsho is an absolute gem!). We can't read Kanji so were unable to decipher what most food was in convenience stores however by having basic food words we able to ask them for help (we found that about two thirds of convenience store workers couldn't speak English)

Etiquette

Etiquette is big in Japan and when someone isn't following it they really stick out.
-There is no jay-walking; everyone waits for the green man at traffic lights. Most cities have a bird tweeting noise when it's OK to walk which we loved.
-Do not sit in priority seats on trains if someone is in need (& even if the carriage is nearly empty you'll get frowned at)
-There is absolutely no litter, though there are not many bins
-Smoking is not allowed in the street, there are designated smoking areas to go to (with trees in!)
-Do not gesture with chopsticks and do not eat from same plate as someone else/drink from  the same cup
-Point with whole straight hand, not one finger.
-Do not pour your own drink; pour others' & they'll return the favour.

We think we made a few taboos throughout our 3 weeks. These are some of the ones that were more obvious as we got some funny looks:
- When sitting on trains/subway try to sit next to a person of the same gender as you. Ideally   sit at least one seat away from other people (Also look out for the hanging handles - they  are lower than on UK trains!)
- Present and take money with both hands if possible. Definitely receive business
  cards with both hands & a slight bow!

Travel

We definitely recommend buying a JR Pass before arriving in Japan as this will save you a lot of money if you will be travelling by train most of the time. We bought the 2 week pass for £246 each which was amazing value considering how much travelling we did and the fact that for one of our journeys the Shinkansen ticket would've cost ¥12220/£70 each. We definitely got our monies worth using the JR Pass!

In terms of planning travel, Hyperdia is an amazing website and app as it lets you check all types of train times for any journey around Japan. We found this very useful when planning/confirming our plans for our full days.

Many cities and some towns have dedicated travel passes that could also be of interest if you do not have a Rail Pass.

Money

Japanese money comes in ¥10000, ¥5000, ¥1000 notes and ¥500, ¥100, ¥50, ¥10, ¥5, ¥1 coins (when we bought our cash it was £1/¥182 which is £5.50/¥1000). We took half our money in cash and half on a prepaid card (like a debit card). This was definitely the best way to carry money, though now I think I would take 1/4 cash and put the other 3/4 on the card. We got our 'Explorer' card from MoneyCorp which is a really good website; it sells cash & the cards (minimum spend £500 for home delivery), and you can utilise up to 14 currencies on the card (I've now heard this has changed but they still sell something similar). Our card is valid until 2020, so we'll be changing our left over money from the 'Yen Wallet' to 'Euro Wallet' for our next holiday.

Accommodation

It is definitely easier if you book your accommodation to be within easy walking distance of the main train station. We used Booking.com to book all our hotels which was amazing because you could cancel up to 2 days before the stay for free and it was pay on check-in.

I have reviewed all the places we stayed in on Booking.com under the username 'Casabi' if you'd like to check. I've also done reviews on TripAdvisor of the attractions we visited under the username 'ChloCasabi'.

Weather

If you go in the height of Summer as we did, prepare to sweat copiously. We both really enjoyed the heat and humidity but the best thing we did was buy little hand towels to dry ourselves with to at least appear 'normal' throughout the days. I also bought way too much sun cream with us; we both applied to face, arms and legs everyday and still only used 1 bottle. Though we were on the go all the time we weren't actually in the sun a lot; if you are looking to catch a tan, do be prepared with SPF 30 - the sun is so hot!

Make sure to stay hydrated which is easy due to all the vending machines everywhere and we found that most ranged from ¥100-¥200. Do not be caught out though! Water is normally international branded; clear drinks like 'Pocari Sweat' are not water! It is an electrolyte drink, which, although is needed in mid-summer heat, is an acquired taste and a shock if you're expecting water.

Miscellaneous

Nearly all trains have moveable seats! On Shinkansen the whole row of 2 or 3 seats swivels round, and on smaller slower trains the backs flip over the seat so you can always face the direction of travel if you want. Such a great idea!

Bowing came naturally to us as we were being bowed to; maybe it wasn't appropriate at some times but it felt right. We adopted a slight incline from upper/mid-back which was received well.

As we had the (mis)fortune to find out, Japanese products are made very well and are long lasting. Now we have our Don Quijote suitcases (which despite a few scratches are still in perfect working condition after 2.5 weeks of hard-core travel) we'll certainly be using them for all future trips. If we'd known we could've been tempted to take cheap suitcases out there to replace with better ones once in Japan.

Every hotel room had a fridge in which was an absolute blessing. This makes keeping food and drink costs down much easier as you could buy breakfast from the convenience store in the evening and have breakfast in bed the next day.


If we think of any more tips we'll keep adding...
Hope you have enjoyed the blog!
Best,
C & M, Casabi Designs

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